This I Believe

Paul - Longmont, Colorado
Entered on April 3, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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This I believe.

I’ve taught high school for 29 years, and I believe in motivation over all other educational tactics. I believe in motivation so much, that it should be the end goal as well as the means to an education. Students need to experience the idea of striving to learn in which they’re willing to put their top effort into something. This means striving to excel … whether it’s on a newspaper staff, on the soccer field, or on a Calculus test. If they realize their own capabilities to learn, I believe they’ll be set for life.

I was a professional journalist — a business editor, — hoping to educate the public about complex issues in economics, but I realized I wasn’t making much of a difference. One night I pictured myself teaching and making a difference one individual at a time and made the switch. Ever since, I found myself pouring in the effort.

Now I teach a variety of classes – from the lightly rigorous Creative Writing to the most demanding Advanced Placement U.S. history, and of course, the newspaper.

I believe in all aspects of education – learning the history of this country, for example, matters. Developing the skills in writing, listening and reading matters. Learning to work as a team on the newspaper also matters.

But most of all, if students learn to take over their own education in terms of giving their uttermost effort, they’ll learn what they can do beyond jumping through hoops we teachers set up.

Our reform efforts in education have focused on mass processing students – teaching a standardized program and testing everyone.

Instead, I believe education works when it involves motivating individuals. Students who have experienced striving to excel know what they can do to solve problems. Education in this case is empowerment. They become the leaders of their generation.

Schools need to develop individual potential because each person will need to meet the challenges of their own lives. Virtually nothing in life is standardized.

To improve schools, therefore, we need to motivate – not coerce – our students to learn to strive. Learning to strive is altogether different from going through the motions. Slaves in the antebellum South became experts at pretending to work. The same was true for Jewish inmates in Nazi slave labor camps. Minimize motivation and human potential shrinks considerably.

However, most of the students I teach need to be coached into putting in effort. They need additional adult guidance.

One simple idea, therefore, is to enhance the adult guidance each student receives. Each teacher needs to become a personal coach for a manageable number of students – say a dozen or so. As a mentor-teacher, I can get to know my students’ individual traits, especially their strengths. I believe supplemental adult guidance will double or triple the number of students who currently flourish in high school and beyond.

This I believe.